a clever riff on Nabokov’s “Lolita” ...
Sunday Book Review
The Lives of the Irish
“The ways we miss our lives are life,” Randall Jarrell observed in his poem “A Girl in a Library.” Anne Enright, the Irish writer who won the 2007 Man Booker Prize for her dark novel “The Gathering,” counts some of the ways people miss their lives in “Yesterday’s Weather,” her varied if somewhat disenchanted collection of stories old and new. Their restless titles suggest the glimpse of an alternative life, the whiff of what if: “Caravan,” “The Cruise,” “The Portable Virgin.”
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Is Enright a grim writer? Not really. There is mischief in these stories, and some of them are quite funny, though a world-weary wisdom is the recurrent note. “Nothing is incomprehensible,” she writes, “when you know that life is sad.” “Felix,” the final story in the collection, is a clever riff on Nabokov’s “Lolita”: “Felix, my secret, my angel boy, my dark felicity. Felix: the sibilant hiss of the final x a teasing breath on the tip of the tongue.” And just in case you don’t get it, she adds this Humbert Humbert aside: “You can always count on a suicide for a clichéd prose style.”
Only this Humbert is a woman and her nymphet is a fawn named Felix, which is Latin for “happy.” This woman knows exactly what she wants: “I want I want I want.” She wants the boy, and if she can’t have him she wants to die. “I don’t want to drift away,” she says. “I want to splatter.” She tells us she has read Poe and Proust, but she seems to have read Plath as well. The anger is palpable, directed at what Jarrell called, in the same wise poem about the girl in the library, “the blind date that has stood you up: your life.”
Christopher Benfey is the Mellon professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and the author, most recently, of “A Summer of Hummingbirds” and “American Audacity.”
By ANNE ENRIGHTReviewed by CHRISTOPHER BENFEY
Anne Enright’s working-class characters grapple with love, marriage, parenthood, boredom, confusion and desire in this collection of stories, old and new.
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